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 English Vocabulary for ESL learners 



Foreign words used in English.


A certain number of foreign words, or words originating in other languages, have been adopted into the English language over the centuries. Many of them come from French and Italian which both derive from Latin, others from Greek, German, Spanish, Japanese and so on.

Here are some examples:

Expression Origin Meaning
agenda Latin List of things to be done.
a la carte French Dishes that can be ordered separately, not the set menu.
alfresco Italian Outdoors, in the open air.
alibi Latin Proof that someone suspected of a crime was in another place at the time it happened.
antenna Latin 1)A transducer which converts electrical power into electromagnetic waves and vice versa.
2) Feeler or horn of an insect.
au pair French Young foreign girl who helps in a home with the housework and the children
ballet French and Italian An artistic dance performed to music using precise steps and gestures.
ballerina Italian A woman who is a ballet dancer.
café French 'Café' means 'coffee' in French and refers to a coffee shop.
carte blanche French Have full powers; complete freedom to act.
casino Italian A building where gambling games are played.
chef d'oeuvre French A masterpiece, especially when referring to art.
confetti Italian Little pieces of coloured paper thrown during a celebration such as a wedding.
coup d'etat French A sudden overthrow of a government by the army.
creche French Child care centre or nursery.
croissant French A flaky crescent-shaped roll or pastry.
delicatessen German A shop where you can find ready-to-eat products such as cooked meats and salads etc.
entrepreneur French A person who starts their own company.
extravaganza Italian A lavish or spectacular show, event or performance.
faux-pas French A social mistake or blunder.
femme fatale French An attractive and seductive woman.
fiasco Italian A complete failure.
genre French Category, type or style e.g. music or literature.
glitch German Small problem or fault that prevents something from being successful.
grafitti Italian A writing or drawing on to a public surface such as a wall.
grotesque French and Italian Odd, exaggerated or unnatural in appearance, shape or character.
guerilla Spanish An irregular, independent armed force.
karaoke Japanese Sing along with the tune of a popular song while reading the lyrics from a screen.
karate Japanese A martial art that originated in Japan.
kindergarten German Nursery school for children before they start elementary school.
lingerie French Women's underwear or sleepwear.
macho Spanish Arrogantly virile or have an exaggerated sense of power or the right to dominate.
nouveau riche French People who have recently become wealthy; newly rich.
origami Japanese The art of folding small pieces of paper in order to form them into interesting shapes.
paparazzi Italian Freelance photographers who pursue celebrities.
partisan French and Italian Strong supporter of a party, cause or faction.
parvenu French Wealthy or important person from obscure origins or a low social position.
patio Spanish A paved or concrete leisure area adjoining a house.
pergola Italian An arch or structure in a garden for climbing plants.
plaza Spanish A public open area in a town or city, also called a "square".
propaganda Latin Misleading or biased information used to promote a cause.
renaissance French Word meaning “rebirth” used to describe the historical period between 1300 and 1600.
rendez-vous French An arrangement to meet someone.
siesta Spanish A nap or a rest during the day, usually in the early afternoon.
solo Italian Done or performed by one person alone.
stiletto Italian A woman’s shoe with a thin high heel.
terracotta Italian A type of fired clay that is brownish-red in colour
tsunami Japanese A gigantic sea wave that is usually caused by an earthquake.

You can find out the origin of words here


Please note that British English spelling is used on this website.

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